Gov’t Assesses Land Rights in Villagers-Pheapimex Dispute

Pursat provincial officials on Monday met with more than 300 villagers locked in a land dispute with Cambodian conglomerate Pheapimex in an attempt to come to a resolution, officials and a hu­man rights worker said.

Pursat governor Khoy Sokha said yesterday that a provincial committee visited disputed farmland claimed by the villagers and would follow up the assessment by meeting with a Pheapimex company representative.

“Now, we are solving the problems,” Mr Sokha said, adding that the provincial committee will meet with a company representative to determine which parts of the affected land would be allocated for the villagers.

Hundreds of villagers in the area began staging protests in mid-October, saying that Pheapi­mex, which maintains a massive economic land concession covering parts of Pursat and Kompong Chhnang, had been clearing forests and farmland that locals depend on to make way for cassava and acacia plantations.

Villagers said that it was the first time provincial authorities had approached the affected residents in a bid to resolve the land disputes.

Sam Pen, a 28-year-old villager from Krakor district’s Ansar Chambak commune, said that he lost a 2-hectare plot of land.

“This is the first time the provincial committee came to meet us, but we still feel very worried about losing our land,” Mr Pen said.

Last week, about 400 villagers set up a roadblock to stop machinery from Pheapimex that they claimed was about to clear a local forest.

Pheapimex representative Ty Kim Toc could not be reached for comment.

Eng Chhun Han, a provincial coordinator for rights group Li­cadho, said yesterday that an estimated 5,000 families have been affected by Pheapimex’s land clearing.

Pheapimex since 1997 has amassed more than 316,000 hec­tares of economic land concessions in Pursat and Kompong Chhnang, 31 times larger than the legal limit set in 2005 by the Ministry of Agriculture.

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